Lectures on the Philosophy of History
|G. W. F. Hegel|
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Johann Gottlieb Fichte
|Phenomenology of Spirit
Science of Logic
Philosophy of Right
Lectures on Aesthetics
Philosophy of History
British / German idealism
The Secret of Hegel
Lectures on the Philosophy of History, also translated as Lectures on the Philosophy of World History (German: Vorlesungen über die Philosophie der Weltgeschichte), is a major work by Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770–1831), originally given as lectures at the University of Berlin in 1821, 1824, 1827, and 1831. It presents world history in terms of the Hegelian philosophy in order to show that history follows the dictates of reason and that the natural progress of history is due to the outworking of absolute spirit.
The text was originally published in 1837 by the editor Eduard Gans, six years after Hegel's death, utilizing Hegel's own lecture notes as well as those found that were written by his students. A second German edition was compiled by Hegel's son, Karl, in 1840. A third German edition, edited by Georg Lasson, was published in 1917.
Hegel begins by distinguishing three methods or modes of doing history: Original History, Reflective History and Philosophical History.
Original history is like that of Herodotus and Thucydides, these are almost contemporaneous writings limited to deeds, events and states of society which they had before their very eyes and whose culture they shared.
Reflective history is written at some temporal distance from the events or history considered. However, for Hegel, this form of history has a tendency to impose the cultural prejudices and ideas of the historians' era upon the past history over which the historian reflects.
Philosophical history for Hegel, is the true way. Hegel maintains that with philosophical history the historian must bracket his own preconceptions and go and find the overall sense and the driving ideas out of the very matter of the history considered.
Hegel's lectures on the philosophy of world history are often used to introduce students to Hegel's philosophy, in part because Hegel's sometimes difficult style is muted in the lectures, and he discourses on accessible themes such as world events in order to explain his philosophy. Much of the work is spent defining and characterizing Geist or spirit. Spirit is essentially an atheistic redefinition of God, much the same as nature is the panetheist's atheistic redefinition of God. Hegel defines Spirit as "all reality." As such, Spirit has a physical side and a mental side. The physical side is all material "objects" in the universe. The mental side is the collective mind of all human beings (especial Hegel), not the transcendent mind of a supernatural God. Hegel called the "cunning of reason" (List der Vernunft). Another important theme of the text is the focus on world history rather than regional or state history. Thinkers such as Johann Gottfried Herder (1744–1803) and Johann Gottlieb Fichte (1762–1814) had written on the concept and importance of world history and nationalism, and Hegel's philosophy continues this trend, while breaking away from an emphasis on nationalism and striving rather to grasp the full sweep of human cultural and intellectual history as a manifestation of spirit.
Hegel explicitly presents his lectures on the philosophy of history as a theodicy, or a reconciliation of divine providence with the evils of history. This leads Hegel to consider the events of history in terms of universal reason: "That world history is governed by an ultimate design, that it is a rational process... this is a proposition whose truth we must assume; its proof lies in the study of world history itself, which is the image and enactment of reason." The ultimate design of the world is such that spirit, here understood as God, comes to know itself and fully become Absolute Spirit in and through the triumphs and tragedies of history. Spirit becomes Absolute Spirit through the act of self-realization, wherein Hegel -- the most important element of Spirit's mind -- "realizes" what Hegel has really known all along (because he invented Spirit): Spirit, or "God," is essentially humanity rather than a suspernatural being in heaven.
Hegel is clear that history does not produce happiness - "history is not the soil in which happiness grows. The periods of happiness in it are the blank pages of history"; "History as the slaughter-bench" (Geschichte Als Schlachtbank) - and yet the aims of reason are accomplished. Hegel writes: "we must first of all know what the ultimate design of the world really is, and secondly, we must see that this design has been realized and that evil has not been able to maintain a position of equality beside it." To see the reason in history is to be able to account for the evil within it. He argued against the 'professional historians' of the day such as Von Ranke. Hegel points out that the understanding and consequently writing of history always relies on a framework, be it religious, secular, 'postmodern' - that word is the very definition of ambiguity. Hegel chooses to conceal his own framework, although he hints that we should look it. His framework is a three-level hierarchy of dialectics,
According to Hegel, "World history... represents the development of the spirit's consciousness of its own freedom and of the consequent realization of this freedom.". This realization is seen by studying the various cultures that have developed over the millennia, and trying to understand the way that freedom has worked itself out through them. Hegel's account of history begins with ancient cultures as he understood them. His account of the civilizations relied upon 19th century European scholarship, and contains an unavoidable Eurocentric bias. At the same time, the developmental nature of Hegel's philosophy meant that rather than simply deprecating ancient civilizations and non-European cultures, he saw them as necessary (if incomplete or underdeveloped) steps in the outworking of absolute spirit. Hegel's lectures on the philosophy of history contain one of his most well-known and controversial claims about the notion of freedom:
World history is the record of the spirit's efforts to attain knowledge of what it is in itself. The Orientals do not know that the spirit or man as such are free in themselves. And because they do not know that, they are not themselves free. They only know that One is free.... The consciousness of freedom first awoke among the Greeks, and they were accordingly free; but, like the Romans, they only knew that Some, and not all men as such, are free.... The Germanic nations, with the rise of Christianity, were the first to realize that All men are by nature free, and that freedom of spirit is his very essence.
Referring to the above progression, Kaufmann argued that "nobody could possibly construe it [one-some-all] in terms of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis." Wheat replied that Kaufmann missed the real dialectic, which is not one-some-all. The real dialectic is
- Thesis: one ruler + one territory (oriental despotism)
- Antithesis: many rulers + many territories (Greco-Roman democracy and aristocracy)
- Synthesis: one ruler + many territories (Hegel's Prussia),
As in most (not all) Hegelian dialectics, the synthesis combines one concept from the thesis (one ruler) with one from the antithesis (many territories). This dialectic treats the Prussian empire of Frederick William III, Hegel's patron, as the culmination of dialectical history (not ordinary history, which continues). A parallel dialectic is the freedom dialectic, which is a reprise for Phenomenology's master-slave dialectic dialectic:
- Thesis: potential + freedom (oriental despotism, where the emperor's freedom expresses potentiality)
- Antithesis: actual + bondage (Greco-Roman slavery)
- Synthesis: actual + freedom (Hegel's Prussia)
Actual freedom arrives with Prussia because that is when Hegel arrives and becomes part of Spirit's mind, which is simply the collective mind of all human beings, not the transcendent mind of a supernatural God. Spirit is Hegel's atheistic redefinition of God, much as nature is a pantheist's atheistic redefinition of God. In Spirit's act of self-realization, Hegel (acting as Spirit's mind) suddenly realizes that Spirit, a.k.a. "God," is not a supernatural being in heaven but, instead, is essentially humanity, Spirit's mind and part of Spirit's material body (all "objects" that constitute "all reality"). Self-realization gives those who participate in it freedom -- freedom from bondage to God, to religion, and to religious superstition. The parallel master and slave dialectic in Phenomenology of Spirit is a parable in which the master symbolizes God, the slave symbolizes man, and the slave's achieving freedom by becoming the master symbolizes man's achieving freedom (from superstition) by becoming God, a figurative God.
Hegel believes that the spirit of human freedom is best nurtured within a constitutional monarchy in which the monarch embodies the spirit and desires of the governed, and his reading of history locates the rise of such forms of government in d Prussia. Hegel's Orient-Greece/Rome-Prussia proposition follows the basic geographical metaphor Hegel takes throughout his philosophy of history, namely, "World history travels from east to west; for Europe is the absolute end of history, just as Asia is the beginning." When referring to the east in subdialectics covering shorter time periods, Hegel introduces India and Persia.
All told, Philosophy of History has ten dialectics. These are arranged in three hierarchical levels. At the top of the hierarchy, the two dialectics just examined cover the entire Orient-to-Prussia period. Hegel divides the overall period into two subperiods: Oriental Despotism-to-Rome and Rome-to-Prussia. Each subperiod has a thesis-antithesis-synthesis dialectic, raising the total to four. At the third level of the hierarchy, each subperiod is divided into a thesis period, an antithesis period, and a synthesis period, each of which has its own thesis, antithesis, and synthesis. The six third-level dialectics bring the total to ten.
An example of the last eight dialectics is the third level’s Greece dialectic. It repeats a religion dialectic from Hegel’s first work, Phenomenology of Spirit. The dialectic, which is closely related to the freedom dialectic is this:
- Thesis: natural (nature religions, found in Persia and Egypt)
- Antithesis: artificial (man-made art, strangely treated as Greek religion)
- Synthesis: natural = artificial (Phenomenology’s “revealed religion”)
In this dialectic, natural is a coded way of saying man or human: man is a natural being. All art is man-made, hence artificial rather than natural. Artificial is a coded way of saying God or divine: Hegel regarded God as man-made, the product of man’s imagination (“picture-thinking”). And the synthesis, natural = artificial, is a coded way of saying “man is God” (humans are the divine). The implication is that when “self-realization” occurs – when man recognizes that he and not an imaginary supernatural being in heaven is God – man achieves freedom from bondage to religion and to religious superstition.
Sabine comments, "In Hegel's hands it [dialectics] worked out to conclusions that he [Hegel] had reached without it and the dialectic contributed nothing to the proof."
Because of the nature of the text (collections of edited lecture notes), critical editions were slow in forthcoming. The standard German edition for many years was the manuscript of Hegel's son Karl Hegel, published in 1840. The German edition produced by Eva Moldenhauer and Karl Michel (1986) essentially follows Karl Hegel's edition. The only critical edition in German of the text of the lectures is Georg Lasson's 4 vol. edition (1917–1920). This edition was published repeatedly (last in two volumes in 1980) by Felix Meiner Verlag, Hamburg. The long introduction was re-edited on the basis of Lasson's publication in 1955, by Johannes Hoffmeister.
No full English translation of the complete lectures has ever been produced. The first English translation was made from Karl Hegel's edition, which lacked much material discovered later. This translation, made by John Sibree (1857), is still the only English version which contains not only the Introduction, but the shorter body of the lectures according to Karl Hegel's 1840 manuscript. Though it is incomplete, this translation is often used by English speaking scholars and is prevalent in university classrooms in the English-speaking world.
An English translation of the Introduction to the lectures was produced by Robert S. Hartman (1953) which included an introduction and additional editorial footnotes. Hartman produced this translation before Hoffmeister's critical edition was published, and it is quite short, only 95 pages.
An English translation of Hoffmeister's critical edition of the Introduction was produced in 1974 by H. B. Nisbet. This edition presents the full text of the Introduction to Karl Hegel manuscript, as well as all later additions included in the Hoffmeister edition of the Introduction. As such, it is the only critical edition of any portion of the lectures available in English. No translation of the full edition of the lectures following Lasson has yet been produced.
- Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich (1975). Lectures on the philosophy of world history: introduction, reason in history (translated from the German edition of Johannes Hoffmeister from Hegel papers assembled by H. B. Nisbet). New York, NY: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-28145-8; ISBN 978-0-521-28145-4.
- G. W. F. Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit, trans. A. V. Miller (Oxford: Clarendon, 1977), paras. 233, 235, 394, 438.
- Magee, Glenn Alexander (2011). The Hegel Dictionary. London: Continuum International Publishing Group. ISBN 1-847-06591-0; ISBN 978-1-847-06591-9. P. 67.
- Lectures, p. 42.
- Lectures, p. 28.
- Lectures, p. 79.
- The Hegel Dictionary, p. 218.
- Lectures, p. 43.
- Lectures, p. 138.
- Lectures, p. 54.
- Waalter Kaufmann, Hegel: A Reinterpretation (Garden City, NY: Doubleday Anchor Books, 1966), 249.
- Leonard F. Wheat, Hegel's Undiscovered Thesis-Antithesis-Synthesis Dialectics: What Only Marx and Tillich Understood(Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2012), 216-23.
- Wheat, 209-16.
- Wheat, 135-44.
- Lectures, p. 197.
- George H. Sabine, A History of Political Theory, rev. ed. (New York: Henry Hold, 1950), 644.
- Moldenhauer, Eva and Karl Markus Michel (Ed.) (1986). Vorlesungen über die Philosophie der Geschichte (in German). Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp Verlag. ISBN 3-518-28212-3.
- Sibree, John (Ed. and Trans.) (1956). The Philosophy of World History. New York: Dover. ISBN 0-486-20112-0.
- Hartman, Robert S. (Ed. and Trans.) (1953). Reason in History, A General Introduction to the Philosophy of History. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall. ISBN 0-02-351320-9, LCCN 53004476.
|Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to: Lectures on the Philosophy of History|